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Villagers trust benefits from fragrant smell of opportunity

Updated: 2022-02-24 08:54 ( China Daily )
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HAIKOU-A huge argument broke out between Guan Wanhou and his father.

"No way! Making agarwood is a craft passed down for generations within the family, how can I possibly share our secrets with other villagers," said Guan Yiguang, spurning his son's suggestion to teach their techniques to other villagers.

"Times have changed! If you want to make it big in this business, you can't just work on your own," his son argued.

Agarwood, better known as chenxiang in China, is known for being fragrant and its use in traditional Chinese medicine. It is often used for perfume, incense and souvenirs.

The Guan family are residents of Qinbiao village in Ledong Li autonomous county in South China's Hainan province, and are good at cultivating agarwood.

Guan Wanhou is a sixth-generation inheritor of the agarwood-making craft in his family. In 2006, he retired from the military and came back to his hometown to learn the craft from his father.

Years have passed, but his wish to expand the business has not been realized, especially as the country has banned the harvest of wild agarwood.

"I felt like I was working on my own," he says.

Guan Wanhou went to ask why local villagers were reluctant to grow aquilaria trees, which produce agarwood. "They told me that they did not know the proper techniques and that they did not want to spend too much time on something they were not sure about," he said.

Guan Wanhou then started talking his father into sharing their agarwood-making craft with locals, so that more people would join them. The elder Guan argued with his son, but eventually gave in.

"I told my dad that agarwood has a huge market, and supply is dwarfed by demand," Guan Wanhou said.

Guan Wanhou then started persuading local villagers to plant aquilaria trees and promised to teach them agarwood-making techniques. Some local residents agreed and have been gaining skills in planting and caring for aquilaria trees and agarwood-making.

Now villagers have grown about 50,000 aquilaria trees, but the plantation area is still "less than expected". "The main reason is the lack of land," Guan Wanhou says, adding that he plans to encourage villagers to plant the trees, both in front of, and behind, their houses, or to grow the trees in existing rubber tree fields.

There are about 800 families in the village, and if they grow the trees around each family home and along village roads, they will have at least 200,000 such trees, he says, adding that the trees are evergreen and can add to local greening efforts.

"If we cultivate agarwood from all the trees we grow, we will surely reap a good harvest," Guan Wanhou says. "It will be really exciting!"

The Hainan provincial government is encouraging the development of the agarwood industry, with a work plan in 2019 advocating the plantation of aquilaria trees to help people gain more income.

Currently, the province has about 10,000 hectares of the trees. More than 1,250 companies have registered in the sector in Hainan.

Guan Wanhou plans to cultivate 250,000 aquilaria tree seedlings this year and give some of them to local residents for free. "I hope the industry will take root in the village," he says. "I can't wait."

China grows up to 67,000 hectares of aquilaria trees, but quality agarwood remains limited, and about 80 percent of agarwood used in China comes from imports, according to Cheng Qian, with the China Council for the Promotion of Environment and Forestry, citing latest figures.

Cheng says that measures, such as detailing industrial standards and strengthening market supervision, should be taken to make breakthroughs in the development of the industry.



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